Challenging conventional modes of understanding China and the circulation of knowledge within the history of science, Catherine Jami’s new book looks closely at the imperial science of the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722). It focuses on the history of mathematics in this context, but situates the story of mathematics and Kangxi within a larger framework that extends from the late Ming through the years after Kangxi’s reign, and treating much more than mathematics in the course of the analysis.
The Emperor’s New Mathematics: Western Learning and Imperial Authority During the Kangxi Reign (1662-1722) (Oxford University Press, 2012) takes us from the beginning of Western learning in China in the late Ming dynasty through the commissioning by Kangxi of a massive compendium that was the largest mathematical work ever printed in imperial China. Along the way, Jami’s work surveys the changing pedagogy of imperial mathematics in late imperial China, the crucial role that materiality and instruments played in the mathematics of this period, the many languages of sciences at the court, and the ways that Kangxi alternately used Jesuit mathematics to undergird his authority over Chinese scholar-officials, and sidelined them in the service of championing the mathematical knowledge of Chinese scholars and Bannermen. It is a rich and powerful account that rewards a wide range of readers. Enjoy!